Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Coping with disparities between kids

If you have more than one child there is no way to behave that will not subject you to the claim that you are being unfair. You either treat all your children the same -- in which case you are probably only giving one child what he or she actually needs -- or you can respond to each child according to his or her needs, in which case you are clearly not treating them equally.

My goal is to respond to each of my children's needs individually. Given that I have children with vastly different needs, histories, and even legal limitations, this can create inequalities that also have to be addressed. For instance, grades came out this week. I congratulated Evan on grades for which I would have grounded Andrew. Evan sometimes has to be driven to multiple appointments in a week. It is usually a half hour drive each way and so we end up having lots of one-on-one time. Andrew and Brian will feel that they don't see me enough so I will take each of them out separately to the coffee shop for a half an hour of individual time. Evan will feel jealous that they get a special treat for no reason while Andrew and Brian will think that their cup of hot chocolate hardly compares to the two meals out that Evan got after his appointments.

The laws don't make things any easier.

Of course Andrew and Brian can spend the night with friends -- Evan however has to ask the parents to fill out a form for a criminal back ground check.

The church youth group is going on a short trip. When we get there they mention that due to road work they will be driving a route which will take them out of state for a few hours. My stomach clenches. Evan says, "You didn't hear that, right? You are still going to let me go, right?" The youth group leader is confused until I say, "It would take at least 2 months for me to get permission for Evan to leave the state."

Evan's social worker wants Evan to work 10-15 hours a week during the school year. He is not involved in any significant activities and doesn't have much homework at all, so that is reasonable. Andrew is in marching band, jazz band, and taking a heavy college prep schedule -- so he does not have to work. It makes sense to me -- but not to Evan.

Andrew could have got a license at 16, but Evan has to wait until he is 18. (Andrew has chosen to wait a while longer. He says driving is just not that important to him. I think that he is responding to the unfairness of the law).

If we were working for the state I would have to to buy Evan's clothes at Shopko and Walmart with vouchers while buying clothes for Andrew and Brian wherever I found good clothes at good prices.

Some families in the agency I work for have quite different problems: the agency pays for orthodontia, formal wear for the prom, a class ring or a complete senior portrait package, school expenses (including instrument rentals for band), and fees to participate in group activities (e.g. equipment rental for youth group trips). When they know that the family cannot afford to provide the same things for their birth kids they do try to dial it down -- but disparities still happen.

And there is all the history. Andrew and Brian have albums and boxes of photographs. Evan has four: one of himself with his dad who died when Evan was three, another of his mother, and two of his baby sister. Andrew and Brian have shelves of books, games and the cumulated stuff of a childhood spent in one place. Evan has nothing that was not purchased in the last 10 months. Andrew and Brian have stories about the silly things that they did when they were little. Evan has memories of the terrible things that happened to him. When Andrew and Brian start reminiscing, Evan can feel hurt. Sometimes he thinks they are deliberately trying to hurt him by calling attention to what they have that he does not.

When Andrew and Brian have a bad day and complain, Evan has trouble having sympathy for them. Once after 11-year-old Brian had a total melt-down crying because he was tired and stressed, Evan told me that he wanted to yell at him to shut up "Doesn't Brian know that he has EVERYthing? He has this home. He has parents who have taken care of him his whole life."

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